Staff Writer Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the senior content writer and operations manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests o…See full bio
As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
California beach towns will have you swoon your way to the moon. From world-class seafood restaurants to incredible surf spots, the impeccable charm, stunning scenery, and laid-back vibes of the Golden State's coastline will leave you head over heels. So pack your shades, sunscreen, and swimsuit—it's time to hit the road and head to one of the beach cities in California.
Location: 15 minutes from San Diego
Home to miles of pristine beaches, plenty of unique shops, and the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, this island has earned itself a reputation as one of the best beachside destinations in California. Whether your ideal vacation involves taking a ferry to San Diego to check out the Gaslamp District; trying out your skills with various water sports; or lounging on the sand for endless hours, Coronado has it all.
Location: 1 hour from Los Angeles
Santa Monica will give you the good vibes. From the famed, ride-filled pier to the cement pathway that welcomes you to skate over to Venice Beach, Santa Monica is without a doubt one of California’s top coastal towns. Spend the day soaking up the SoCal sun, and take a bike ride around town before you head home. Santa Monica is definitely one of the best southern California beach towns, so make sure to stop by this beach when you're in L.A.
Location: 1 hour, 20 minutes from Los Angeles
Known for its mild weather, plethora of art galleries, and waterfront perch, Laguna Beach is much more than a Hollywood film location. This coastal city is likely one of the most famous in the entire state—and for good reason. Head to the gorgeous beaches and picture-perfect coves, check out the works of local artists, pick up some local swimwear, and grab a bite to eat. You’ll surely feel like a reality TV star in no time.
Location: 30 minutes from Santa Barbara
Tucked along the coast, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, this idyllic beach town offers something for everyone. With temperate weather, a mixture of urban and natural staples, and enough activities to keep college students busy year-round, San Luis Obispo is the ideal Central Coast getaway.
Location: 1 hour, 20 minutes from Santa Barbara
The stunning town of Malibu has a more remote location than other beachside cities in the greater Los Angeles area, so you can enjoy yourself without having to deal with nearly as many tourists. Whether rock climbing, surfing, eating farm-to-table cuisine, or simply relaxing are on your to-do list, this vacation destination doesn't disappoint.
Location: 30 minutes from San Francisco
Sausalito, one of the best small beach towns in California, draws plenty of tourists during the summer months, but it largely remains under the radar for the rest of the year (which is exactly why we like it). Whether you're looking to get away from the city or are scouring the state for the best seafood restaurants, this small coastal town serves up whatever you desire—with a magnificent view. Check out floating homes and houseboats, go for a hike, and enjoy the comforts of Sausalito's small-town charm. You just might want to stay forever.
Location: 1 hour, 30 minutes from San Francisco
The iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, stunning state parks, and incredible sunsets draw thousands of annual visitors to this coastal city across the bay from Monterey. Compared to the surrounding towns, Santa Cruz has a vibrant yet low-key vibe that makes it one of the best northern California coastal towns for twentysomethings. Try the local ice cream, take a bite out of delicious burgers, and walk along the river to see for yourself why this town is so special.
Location: 2 hours, 30 minutes from San Francisco
After spending a day walking along the cobblestone streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea, it's hard not to fall in love with one of the best northern California coastal towns. Though the magical town is only a short drive away from the Bay Area, its cobalt waters, quaint boutiques, and endless eateries will make you want to stay more than one day. Watch the sun go down while sitting on the sandy shores, marvel at the beauty surrounding you, and take home a piece of artwork to commemorate the trip.
Location: 2 hours, 45 minutes from San Francisco
Famous for its incredibly scenic location among the redwoods, Big Sur is one of the best beach towns in California to live. Whether you pop in during a trip to Carmel or stay for the entire weekend, it's bound to become one of your new favorite places. Cruise down Highway 1 and savor the unparalleled views as you make your way to Big Sur. Visit the local eateries and go on a hike or two before your trip is over, and if you’re enjoying a staycation, book a room at one of the eco-lodges (or rough it in the wilderness).
Location: 3 hours, 20 minutes from San Francisco
If you're seeking the quintessential northern California beach town, look no further than Mendocino. With its rugged appeal, this laid-back region is the perfect place to go glamping, camping, and hiking—though it does have plenty of upscale options (including Michelin-starred restaurants, eco-resorts, and nearby hot springs) for those desiring a more elegant escape.
Location: 5 hours from San Francisco
While it is known for being home to Humboldt State University, Arcata is also one of the most affordable beach towns in California. With fairly close proximity to the state’s northern border, this city experiences a cooler climate and much more rain than most other areas of California. Venture through the redwoods at the local parks; grab a scoop or two of the local, organic, handcrafted ice cream; and head out on the dirt roads that wind past farmlands before meandering toward the beach.
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